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BrandonSanderson,epiclevelfantasynovelistandallaroundgoodguy,teachesafiction

writingcourseatBrighamYoungUniversity.Becauseofthegeneralniceness,hesmadeallthe
lecturesavailableonYoutube.Becauseoftheepiclevelskill,thelecturesare
freakinguseful.

Sinceyoumightnothavetimetolistentotheentirehourlongclass,Imtakingnotesforyou.
Theyrenotexhaustive,buttheygetthedonkeyworkoutoftheway.

Contents
Session1:IntroductoryNotes
OnAdvice
OnWordCount
OnSizes
IdeasAreCheap
(DescriptionofClass)WritingGroups
TheTwoTypesofWriters

Session2:Brainstorming
WritersNeedMultipleBrains
WhyFormMatters
Storytelling
NailingYourIdeas
ExampleBrainstorming(Broad)
ExampleBrainstorming(Narrowed)

Session3:ProseIStyle,Viewpoint,andInfodumps
ProseandStyle
LearningCurves
Viewpoints
Tense
Infodumps

Session4:PlotIPromisesandProgress
Q&A
Plot
ToolstoStreamlineaPlot
PlottingMethods
TheStrangeAttractor
ConcerningPlotEnvy
YouAreaStageMagician
HowtoMakeaBookGuide

Session5:CharacterILikable,Active,Competent
Q&A:Plot

Character
Likable
Active
Competent
CharacterasRole
CharacterConsiderations

Session6:SettingIYouCannotDoEverything
Q&A:Character
Setting
TheBasicsofSetting
PhysicalSetting
CulturalSetting
SandersonsLaws

Session7:ProseIITheGrandSkill
Q&A:Prose
Prose
WindowPaneProse
StainedGlassProse
Hybrids
ThePyramidofAbstraction
Infodumps
Q&AAgain

Session8:ProseIIIShopIt
Q&A:Assorted
ProseWorkshop

Session 1: Introductory Notes


Largelythisisadiscussionofthesyllabusandtheclassformat,butitcontainssomehandy
startingoffstuff.Bluetextjumpstothementionedsectionlessimportanttopicsarenotlinked.

On Advice
Rule1:Thisadviceisgoodexceptwhenitsnot.
Writers
love
togivewritingadvice.Askanywriter,evenonewhodoesntwriteveryoften,and
s/hecangiveyouloadsandloadsofadviceonwhatsworkedforthem.Thisis
handyprovidedyourefilteringitthroughthefactthatyouarenotthatwriter.ConsiderStephen
King

andOrsonScottCard.Kinghatesoutlinespassionately,believingtheystiflecreativityand
suffocatethestory.Cardsaysoutlinesaregreatandyoushoulduseone.

Allwritingadvice
needs
tobefilteredthroughthatidea.Allwritingadviceisgoodexceptwhen
itsnot.

On Word Count
Yououghttobethinkinginwordcount.Pagesaremalleable.

On Sizes
Booksindifferentmarketsvaryinsizes.
Middlegradenovels:40k50k
YAs:65k85k
Adultnovels:75k/80kandup

*From15minutesinuntilabout22minutesin,itsjustsyllabusdiscussion

Ideas Are Cheap


Thegoalofthisclassistoturnstudentsintowriterswho
writegoodbooks,
notwriterswho
write
onegoodbook
.Theresastrainofthoughtthatthefundamentalingredientofagoodbookisa
greatideaSandersondisagrees.

JimButcher,beforehewaspublished,wasonaforumdiscussingthisverythingandsaid
somethingtotheeffectof,Agreatwriterwilltaketheworstideaandmakeawonderfulstory
outofit,andabadwriterwilltakethe
best
ideaandscrewitup.Itsnottheidea,itstheskillset.
Hisopponentchallengedhimtocombine
Pokemon
andtheLostRomanLegionwhichthen
becametheCodexAlerabooks,abestsellingseries.

YoumaybeaMozartofwriting,butthats
veryveryveryr
are.Thevastmajorityofwriterstoilin
obscurityforawhile,honingtheircraft.Theconcepthereisthatyoure
trainingtobeawriter,
notjustwriting.Thefocusisonbecomingbetterandlearninghowtowritewell.

Description of Class
and
Writing Groups

Notrelevanttowritingnovels,but
very
usefulforbuildingawritinggroup.Goesuntilabout
56:20.Highlights:
Aswitheverythingintheclass,writinggroupsarenotnecessarilyforeveryone.
Membershaveaweeklywordcountgoal,submittedtoothermembersofthegroup
(groupsizes46peoplepreferrednumberis5).
Othermembersofthegroupreadthesesubmissionsbeforemeeting(shouldtakeabout
anhour).Thegroupmeetsforabout1hourtogivefeedbackoneachstory,whichworks
outtoaround10minutesperperson.
TotheWorkshoppers:
Thisisreaderresponse,notfellowwritersbrainstorming.Onceagain,with
feeling:
youareareader
.Informed,intelligent,awareofthecraftofwriting,but
stillareader.Youarenotturningthestoryintowhat
you
wantyouarehelping
yourpeerwritethestorytheywanttotell.
Focuson
descriptive
content,not
prescriptive
contentthatis,sayIwasbored
orIamconfusedorIhatethischaracterorIfyoukillthischaracterI,asan
investedreader,willSTRAIGHTUPKILLYOUBACKinsteadofOoh!You
shouldmakehimfindamagicsword!orYou
have
tokillthementor!
Thesehelpcurtailtheproblemofworkshopgroupshijackingstories(because
thatcan,andoftendoes,happen).
TotheWorkshopee:
Resisttheurgetodefendyourself.
Resisttheurgetodefendyourself.
Shutup.
Stop.
Resisttheurgetodefendyourself.
Thisisa
focusgroup
:youareusingyourworkshopgrouptofindouthow
audiencesrespondtoyourstory,nottoreassureyourselfyoureagoodwriter.
Imagineyourselfasaflyonthewallwhentheotherstalkaboutyourstorythis
willbemoreusefultoyouanyway.
Readersmightbeconfusedbysomethingthatwill
totally
beexplainedlaterdont
explainittothem.Youllwanttoprovetothemthatyoureagenius,but
resist
thatinstincttoo
.Ifyougiveitaway,yourobyourselfoftheirhonestfeedback
aboutthebigtwistattheend.
Youarepermittedtoaskquestions,providedyoucandoitwithoutpredisposing
youraudience.

Appointateamleader.FindthemostTypeAextrovertyouhaveinyour
groupsomeonewhowill(a)encourageotherstotalkand(b)encouragefolkstostick
onschedule.
TheAmyGreensandChandlerBirchesofthegroupthatis,thoseofyouwhotalka
lot
stop
.Ifyouretalkingthewholetime,youwillprobablysteamrollthequieteronesin
thegroup.
Dontdothat.
Quietonesinthegroup(youknowwhoyouare):
yourinsightisvaluable.

Shareit.
Whenyougivefeedback,
startwithgoodthings.
Ithelpsthewriterstoknowwhatis
alreadyworking.(Thiscanactuallybemorevaluablethancriticism.)Focusonwhats
working
foryou
inthestory.Likedajoke?Tellthem.Thinkthischaracteristhebestone
sinceJohnMcClane?Tellthem.Oneparticularphrasegaveyoutheshivers?
Tellthem
.
Moveonfromthereto
largescaleissues.
Weretalking
characterization,plot,and
setting
.Donotburnthistimewithgrammarissuesunlesstheworkshopeehasturnedin
somethingwritteninhonesttogoodnessPidginEnglishanditsgettingintheway.
Ifyou
have
toedittheotherfolkswork,printoutthepagesandmarktheminred
andgivethemtothewriterthiswillfulfillyourdutytotheuniversetostampout
typoswherevertheymayhide,
without
burningyourwritinggroupsprecious
time.

The Two Types of Writers


Manyofyouarealreadyawareoftheideathatwritersfallintotwobreeds:
gardener
and
architect
,or
seatofpantser
and
outliner.
Thegardenerthrowssomeideasinabowlandlets
themreact(thinkmadsciencechemistry).Thearchitectplansoutastoryingreatdetail,
decidingwhatwillhappenlongbeforewritingthethingout.

Thoughwritersarenotperfectlycategorizedbythesetwomodels,theywilltendtoleaninone
directionoranotherultimately,bothstyles
arejusttools
.Hypothetically,anywritercouldmake
useofeithertechnique,butifitdoesntworkforyou,whybother?Dontfeelpressuredtoshove
yourselfintojustoneofthese.Useeitherofthemastheyrenecessary.

Discovery Writing

StephenKing:putinterestingcharactersininterestingsituationsseewhathappens.
MaryRobinetteKowal:Yes,ButNo,Andmethod.
Startwithapersonwhohasaproblem.
Alright,whathappensnext?Doesitwork?
Yes,but
somethingelsegoes
wrong.
Doeswhattheytrytofixtheproblemwork?
No,AND...
itgetsworse.
Goesonandoninthatcycleuntiltheproblemisfixed
Noteforeveryone:thegoodstories,mostly,areabout
somethingthatgoeswrong
.It
allstartswithaproblem.Itcanbesomethingsmall(Mydeplorableauntandunclemake

meliveinthecupboard,Iwashavinganicedinnerandthenitwasruinedbytwelve
rowdydwarves)
Discoverywriters
tend
tohavebettercharacters(first,becausethecharactersproblems
arethewritersproblems,sothewriteridentifiesstronglywiththecharacters,andsotoo
doesthereadersecond,becausethecharactersarenotshoehornedintoactionsthey
wouldnotreasonablytakeandthird,becausethediscoverywritersmethoddepends
uponinterestingcharactersdoinginterestingthings)
Discoverywriters
tendt
ohavelessintricateplotsandawfulendings(sincethey
eventuallygettotheandtheysolvedit,whichisntsatisfying)
Discoverywriters
tendt
ostrugglewithgettingpastChapterThree/thebeginning.Theyll
writeafewchaptersandthensuddenlygo,Oh!
Thatsw
hatthisisabout!andfeela
needtoresetsotheycanlaytheforeshadowing.ThentheygettoChapterThreeand
say,Oh,
now
Iknowwhatitsabout.andstartalloveragain.
Tend
istheoperativewordhere,becausetherearealwaysexceptions,andagreat
writerwillcompensateforhis/hernaturalweaknesses.Discoverywriterscanhaveflat,
boringcharactersandintricateplotsandmindblowingendings.Thisismerelya
statementoftendency,notauniversallaw.

Outline Writing

Outlinerwriters
tend
tohaveweakercharactersbecausetheyarepronetoask,What
doestheplotrequirethecharacterstodohere?
Outlinerwriters
tend
tohavesolidendings(becausetheyveknowntheplotthewhole
time)
Outlinerwriters
tend
tohaterevisingbecause,fundamentally,theyvewrittenthestory
twicebythetimetheyreachtheend.

Points-on-the-Map Writing

Mappersstartwithadecentideaoftheirendingandtheirinternalconflict,andperhapsa
fewcoolscenesthattheywanttohitinbetween.Sotheystartwiththeiridea,
DiscoveryWritetotheirfirstcoolscene,DiscoveryWritetotheirnextcoolscene,andon
andonuntiltheyreachthefinale.

Session 2: Brainstorming
Thereallyindepthlookathowtomidwifeyourideaintoanhonesttogoodnessnofooling
book.

Asbefore,bluetextjumpstothementionedsection.

Writers Need Multiple Brains


Englishclasseswilloccasionallylapseintoanoverlyartisticsideofwritingthedancethrough
tulipsandtalkaboutyourfeelingsstyleofwriting.Thisisfine,justnotforeverybody,andits
toughtosellitformoney.Artisticvisionisnotsupergreatatpayingthebills.

Youareacraftsperson
:youaretryingto
becomeapersonwhomakesgoodart(
notjustmake
goodart)andyouaretryingtodothatthroughpracticeovertime.

However,
youarealsoabusinessperson
,whosejobitistofindawaytofeedthat
craftspersonsotheycangoondancingthroughtulipsandwaxingeloquentaboutthehuman
condition.

TheCraftspersonsjobistoproducethebestavailableworktheBusinesspersonsjobisto
exploitthatineverywaypossible.

Whichmeansthatwhenthemanuscriptiscomplete,theBusinesspersonsmashesthe
Craftspersonovertheheadwithabluntobject,stuffstheirbodyinacloset,andrunsawaywith
themanuscriptwiththeexpressintentionofmakingmoneyfromit.

Why Form Matters


Sandersonrecallsatimefromhishighschooldayswhenheplayedtrumpet.Hehadplayedit
forseveralyearsandwasatleastanadequateplayerbutforhislifehecouldntimprov.He
couldhearthelicksinhishead,butcouldntforcethemthroughthefrontofthehorn.This
baffledhimforsometime,untilateacherorderedhimtomakehisscalessecondnature.Once
hehadthemmastered,hecouldimprovisemuchmoreimpressively.

Jazzisamagnificentlyfreeandimprovisationalstyleofmusicbutitisbuiltonarigid
foundationofscales.

Storytelling
Sandersonbreakshisstoriesdownintothreeprimarycomponents:
plot,setting,and
character
.Theyareheldtogetherbyconflict.

Learningyourscalesissimplythis:learnwhatmakesanengagingplot,anintriguing
character,andaninterestingsetting.

Conflict
Whyisconflictimportant?Whydoesitholdthestorytogether?
Nobodylikesastorywherenothinghappens.Thekingdiedandthenthequeendiedis
notastorythekingdiedandthenthequeendiedofgriefisastory.
Astoryisaboutwhat
somebodywantsa
nd
whytheycanthaveit.
KurtVonnegut
advises,Haveyourcharacterstartoutdesperatelywantingsomething,evenifitsjusta
glassofwater.Ifyourcharacterstartsoutwantingsomethingtheycanthave,youhave
immediate
sympathyforthatcharacter,andanimmediatetelegraphingtothereaderof
whatsgoingtohappen.

Plot
Plotismakingaseriesofpromisestothereaderandfulfillingtheminunexpected,yet
satisfying,ways.Manyfledglingwritersmakethemistakeofgivingthewrong
promisesstartingoffaromancestorywithanactionadventureopeningscene,perhaps.

Character
Usually
whatwearelookingforisarelatablecharacter.Occasionallyyoucangetawaywithan
unsympathetic,unrelatablecharacterbutitsveryhardtodoandpeopleprobablywontlike
yourbook.

Yourmaincharacterdoesnthavetobeagoodguy.S/hejustneedstohaveafew
characteristics:
Sympathetic(availablewaystobesympathetic:benice,wounded,disadvantaged,
idealistic,principled,etc)
Active(driventoaccomplish
something
thistiesbacktothecharacterdesperately
wantingsomething.Protagonistsgonnaprotag.)
Competence(capableofaccomplishingatleastafewthings)

Twooutofthreecanmakeforaverystrongcharacter.
Sympathetic+Competent=BilboBaggins,surprisinglyenough
Sympathetic+Active=HarryPotter
Active+Competent=SherlockHolmes,theTwelfthDoctor

Whenyoushoveallthreeintoonecharacter,yougetbooksabouthowawesomethecharacter
is.JamesBondandDirkPittaregoodexamples:theystartoffbeingawesome,theysolve
problemsbybeingawesome,andattheendofthebookoh,look,theyreawesome.(Seasons
1and2of
LegendofKorra
wouldbeanothergoodexample.)Thesecharacterscanbejustas
boringascharacterswhohaveonlyoneofthethree.

Setting
Thisisjustasmuchaconcernforromanceandsuspensewritersasitisforscifi/fantasy
writers:whateverbookyourewriting,youaregoingtogivethereaderasenseofyourworld.
Youdecidetherulesofthisworldforinstance,inJaneAustenswork,theunderlyingruleof
theworldisTheromanticinterestsenduptogether.Settingwillprobablyhaveasignificant
roleinyourstorysthematicunderpinningsforinstance,
DjangoUnchainedh
asamajor
antislaverytheme,butthatcanonlyexistifthesettingpushestheprevalenceofslavery(so
thatthemaincharacterscanrebelagainsttheprevalence).

Insomestories(notablyfantasyandscifi),settingisamaincharacterthesenovelistsare
concernedwith
immersion
.Otherstoriesusealighterbrush,givingprideofplacetoplotand
character.Itsallaboutchoosingwhattoaccomplish.

Conflict (Part II)


Theeasypickingsforstoryisfindingaplacewhereyoucangeneratefrictionbetweentwoof
thosethreecomponentsorallthree.(UsuallyitsgoingtobebetweenCharacterandoneof
theothers.)AhereticinaworldofbelieversisaCharactervs.Setting.Thewizardwantsme
todothisbutIdontWANNAisCharactervs.Plot.Charactervs.Characterisselfexplanatory.

Prose
Oneofthesignificantchoicesinhowyoutellyourstoryiswhatkindofproseandstyleyouwant
touse.Theseincludedecisionslike:
Viewpoint(whoseheadwearein,andhowdeeply)
Tense(past/present/future)
Floweriness(thisoneisascalegoingfrom
terse
to
purple
)

Nailing Your Ideas


Acoolideadoesntmakeagreatstoryagreatwritermakesagreatstory.Still,ifyoucanhave
yourcake
and
eatit.

Trytohaveafewstoryhooksforyourself.Shootfor,perhaps,twocharacterhooks,oneplot
hook,andonesettinghook.

Your
plothook
isdecidingwhatkindofarchetypeyourstorywillalignwith.Really,youre
lookingforwhatsgoingtochange.Ifyouredoinganovella,youwantjustonemajorchangein
novels,youcanaffordtohavemore.Whatsyourbeginning,whatsyourend,andwhatsgoing
tochange?Thatlldecideyourplot.

(Forfurtherplotinformation,tryJosephBookersMagnificentSevenonforsize:

OvercomingtheMonster
theresasupernaturallybadbaddieoutthere,andithasa
preciousprize(likeaprincessorancestralsword)and
Ineedtokillitdead
.cf.theMario
videogames,JackandtheBeanstalk
RagstoRiches
acommonerembarksonaseriesofadventures,whichculminatein
theirascensiontooneofTheElite(andoftenanopportunitytoenactrevengeonthose
whoabusedthempreviously).cf.
Cinderella,
thebiblicalJosephstory
TheQuest
thereissomethingawesomeeightbajillionmilesaway,andIneedtoget
there(
onfoot!
).cf.
TreasureIsland
,
LordoftheRings
VoyageandReturn
afterfallingintoastrangeandfantasticalworld,theprotagonist
attemptstogethome,returningasanutterlydifferentperson.cf.Digimon,
Neverwhere,

AliceinWonderland
Comedy
amisunderstandingleadstoanothermisunderstanding,whichleadsto
another
misunderstanding,whichculminatesinan
enormousm
isunderstanding,allof
whichareclearedupinhilariousways.cf.Idontevenknow,thepagelistsabunchof
examplesthatareolderthananyonelikelytoreadthis.
Tragedy
acharacterlongsforsomethinghe
shouldnothave,
andacquiresitata
devastatingcost.cf.
Lolita,

AnnaKarenina
,
Faust
,
BreakingBad
Rebirth
acharacterfallsinto
somethinglikealivingdeath
andisbroughtoutbya
redeeming,oftensacrificialact.cf.
SleepingBeauty
,
SnowWhite
,Christianity

Theseplotscanbecombined,subverted,inverted,blatantlydefied,andotherwisemessedwith
inanywayyoucaretotry.)

Agoodstrategyforfindinga
settinghook
isjusttolookforsomethingfuntoplaywith.
Fantasistscangetawaywithalothere:coolreligions,coolmagicsystems,cooltechnologies,
coolbiomes,coolcultures.Lookforsomethingthatwillmakeyourreaderatleastmildly
intriguedbytheworldspossibilities.

Your
characterhook
willboildownlargelytowhatthecharacterwants.Lookforaninteresting
desire,orconflict,orpast,orsomethinglikethat.Beespeciallyinterestedinsettingthemat
oddswithwhateverisgoingtohappentothem:Bilboisinterestingbecausehesimultaneously
wantsand
doesnotwant
togoonanadventure.Really,whatyoureinterestedinismakingyour
characterripeforlotsandlotsand
lots
ofconflict.

Example Brainstorming (Broad)


Duringthissegment(whichgoesfromabout24:00untilabout42:00),Sandersondemonstrates
howhewouldconstructcharacter,plot,andsettinghooks,givencharactershisclassdreams
up.Veryinterestingdemonstrationandworthwatching,butdifficultandtimeconsumingtorelay
viatext.

Example Brainstorming (Narrowed)


Thisisa
swift
overviewofplot(sincetheresaproblemwithsaying,Letswriteanovellaand
saying,Okay,letstalkaboutplotinWeek5).Sandersontakesonespecificideafromthe
previoussegmentanddevelopsthestoryoutloud.Likethelastsegment,veryinterestingand
worththetimeitwouldtaketowatch,butnotthetimeitwouldtaketonotate.Afewbroadand
remarkablebitsofadvice:
Ifyourstoryinvolvesacliche,
makeyourstoryaboutsomethingelse.
Youcanaffordto
haveaclicheifitsinthebackground.
Focusonsomethingyouhaventseendonebefore,orsomethingyouhaveseendone
butdoneinadifferentway.
Lookforwhatpromiseyouwanttofulfillattheend.Sandersonbuildshisstories
backward:helooksfirstforwhatgreatendinghewantstohave,andthenknowswhat
promisestomakeatthebeginning.
Afterdeterminingthemostinterestingending,figureoutwhatbreedofstoryitis.ABig
Problem?ARelationship?AMystery?Thesewilldeterminethemajorcomplications.
Afterdeterminingthetypeofstory,Sandersonpicksthesetting,andthenthegenre.

Session 3: Prose IStyle, Viewpoint, and Infodumps

Mostlyconcernedwithsomenutsandboltsthings,uptoandincluding:viewpoint,infodumping,
andlearningcurves.

Prose and Style


Whenfolkspickupyourbook,theyaregoingtonoticeyour
prose
first.Theyjudgewhetherthey
keepreadingbased
almostentirely
onthat.Theyllgetalittlebitofcharacter,setting,andplot
fromyourfirstfewpages,butitsallgettingfilteredthroughthelensofyourprose.Ifyouhavea
greatbookthatcantgrabreadersinthefirstfivepages,youregoingtohavea
muchm
ore
difficulttimesellingyourbook.

Sogetreally,reallygoodatthat.

Learning Curves
Everystorywillhavealearningcurvehowmuchthereaderhastofigureoutbeforegaining
competenceinthebook.Consider:howhighdoesitgo,andhowfastdoesitgetthere?How
fastcansomeonebebroughtuptospeed?

Astorywithfamiliarcharacters,settings,andplotswillhaveashallow,easylearningcurve.The
moreoutlandishthestory,thesteeperthelearningcurve.What
you
needtodoisfigureout
whatyourlearningcurveisandhowtomakeiteasyonyouraudience.Whatyou
dont
wantis
readersslammingintoabrickwallofworldbuilding.Rememberthat50pageessayonhobbit
cultureatthebeginningof
Fellowship?
Yeah,neitherdoesanyoneelse,excepttomentionhow
dreadfulitis.

Techniques for Lowering the Curve:

Introduceacharacterwhoisjustasconfusedasthereaders,andneedsthings
explainedtothem
Limityourviewpoints(givingthereaderananchoringviewpointthatstaysconsistent
despiteatotallycrazy,unpredictableworld)
Startwithaneventreaderswillrecognizeinnately
Twistafamiliardetail(clocksstrikingthirteenin
1984)

Themoreyourreadertrustsyou,themoreyoucangetawaywithasteeplearningcurve.Ifyou
selectasteepone,trytogroundthereaderinsomethingelseasquicklyasyoucanusually
characters.

Note:
querylettersshouldhavethe
shallowestlearningcurveever
.Ifyoureexplainingthe
intricaciesofyourmagicsysteminaqueryletter,thatlettersprognosisisNotGood.

Viewpoints
Masteryofviewpoints,asagenrefictionwriter,isoneofthethingsthatwillsellyourbookin
two
pages
.Itstheskillbarometerforwriters.Ifyouaskedapianisttodemonstratetheirskill,you
wouldquicklyknowwhethertheyrecrapornot,irrespectiveofyourownpianoexperience.
Readerscandothatwithyou,
andeditorsdoitevenbetter,anditdependsmostlyonviewpoint.

Three Basic Viewpoints


FirstPerson
Pros
Developsagreatdealofintimacybetweenthereaderandtheprotagonist,and
doesit
rightquick
Morefreedomtobeuntrustworthy
Excellentforcharacterizingthespeaker
Easierinfodumps(invoice)youcangetawaywithahugeglutofinformationif
yourviewpointcharacterishilariousorotherwiseintriguing
Feelsalittlelikedialogue(whichreadersengagewitheasilythey
love
long
stretchesofdialoguedialoguedialogue,whereasdialoguelong
paragraphdialoguewillmakethemstumble)
Cons
Hardertodomultipleviewpointcharacters
Hardtododramaticirony(inwhichthereaderknowssomethingsignificant,but
theprotagonistdoesnt)iftheydontknowit,youcantshowit
Impliesthatthemain/viewpointcharacterisguaranteedtosurvive(anddoingthe
narratorwasdeadallalongdoesntsurprisereadersasmuchasyoumight
think)
Notes
Moreorlessthedefaultforteenstoriesthesedays
ThirdPerson(Limited)
Pros
Betteratmultipleviewpointcharacters
Moretrustworthycharacter
Morefreedomtokillthecharacter(doesntcomeoffkitschy)
Greaterleewayinauthorialvoice(yourenotchainedtothemaincharacters
voice)
Greaterleewaywithdramaticirony/secretsthereaderknowsandthecharacter
doesnt
Abletogeneratemultipleperspectivesononecharacter
Cons

Hardertoforcereadertoidentifywithcharacter(theresa
very
goodreasonwhy
Lolita
iswritteninfirstperson)
Hardertodoinfodumps/easiertomaketheinfodumpssuck

Notes
Defaultforgrownupbooks
Getacrossthenameofthenotquiteviewpointcharacter
quickly.
Editors
hate
whenyoudo3PLwithoutanamedprotagonist.DONTDOITunlessyouvegota
greatreason.
Trytostickinsidethatcharactersheadprettycloselythatis,dontshowwhat
thecharacterdoesntsee
Omniscient
Pros
Lotsofleewaywithforeshadowing
Canintegratethingsfromfirstandthird
Cons
Difficulttodorightitseasytoconfusereaders
Much
hardertoformrelationshipswiththecharacters(becausereadersoften
bondwiththeonetellingthestory)
Makesitfeeltoomuchlikeabook
Reallyitsjustfreakingdifficulttopullthisoffwithoutannoyingthereaders
Notes
Ineveryonesheadsatonceandseesthefutureyougetasensethat
someone
istellingthestorytoyou
Oftenhasapresentnarrator,thoughtherearesomethatdontuseit
Hasfallensignificantlyoutoffavor
JonathanStrangeandMr.Norrelli
sprobably
thebestknownrecentone

Variations
Hybrid
Mixingthirdandfirst.Checkoutthe
Bartimaeus
SequencefromJonathanStroudforan
example.

Epistolary
Astorytoldbywayofletters.
Dracula,

ThePrestige,

and
ScrewtapeLetters
arewritteninthis
form.

Journal/Memoir
Acharacterreflectsonpreviousexperiences(usuallyinfirstperson).TheKingkillerChronicle,
AssassinsApprentice,
and
PerksofBeingaWallflowera
reallwrittenthisway.

Cinematic First Person


Oftenpresenttense/immediate,likeacameraontheshoulderofthenarrator(whichhappensto
haveachipthatcanhearthecharactersthoughts).
HungerGamesa
nd
Divergent
usethisits
moreorlessthedefaultforYAbooks,particularlydystopian/postapocalyptic
strongfemalefightingacorruptsystemstories(thoughthatsjustwhatYAisrightnow,really).
Truthfully,itsathirdpersonthathappenstouse
I
insteadof
s/he
.

Committed Third
Staysin
justone
charactersheadforawholechapter,butmayswapthemoutnextchapter.A
SongofIceandFireisthemostpopularrecentexample.

Loose Third
Canhavemultiplecharacterviewpointsinachapter,thoughtheyreoftenseparatedbyline
breaks.

Tense
Commonwisdomisthatpresentisamoreimmediatetense,butyougetacclimatedtothat
immediacyprettyquick.Itsunlikelyreaderswillnoticetheseafterthefirstchapterunlessyou
switchbackandforth(whichisntadvisedunlessyouvegotarealgoodreason).

Note:ifyouredoingaJournal/Memoirsortofstory,tensecouldbeweirdforinstance,ifyou
bringinacharacterwhosestatusdoesntchangebytheendofthestory,doyousay,Johnwas
mygoodbuddyorJohnismygoodbuddy?Sticktothepasttenseitseasierforeveryone,
evenifitsnot
technically
correct.

Infodumps
Yourjobasawriteristoconveyinformationinaninterestingway,suchthattheworldbuildingis
anenhancementinsteadofahindrance.Thisisdifficult.Do
not
stopforaparagraphtodeliver
anessayonhobbitcultureitsnolongeracceptable.

Thetrickistocommunicateyourworldsmoothlyandnaturally.

Tricksforinfodumping:
Usedialogue.
Readers
love
dialoguebecausetheressomuchwhitespaceandits
easytoread.However,
avoidmaid&butler:
whentwocharactersstandaround
expositingfor
nogoodreason
excepttocommunicatethingstotheaudience.Ifyoure
usingasyouknow,itslikelytofeelveryawkward.
UseWatson
,asidelinecharacterwhoneedseducating,or
Alice
,aprotagonistwhos
brandnewtotheworldbothcanfeasiblysayWait,what?inthereadersplace.
Show,donttell.
Ifyouwanttotellthereaderthattheworldiscontrolledbyfinicky
politics,openwithagranddebateaboutthepriceofcheeseifyouwantthereaderto

knowthatthegodsareheavilyinvolvedwiththeworld,openwiththecharacterdodging
alightningboltandsaying,Ishould
not
havesaidhisnameinvain!Internalizethat.
Vonnegutadvised,Therearethreethingstodoinyourwriting:evokesetting,advance
action,orevokecharacter.Everylineoughttodotwoofthose,threeifitcan.(
The
audiencewantstoworkforitslunch.
)Sandersonadvisesgetting
reallyreallygood
at
this.Likelove,itcancoveramultitudeofwrongs.

Session 4: Plot IPromises and Progress

Thisisagroundworksessionaboutplot,focusingprimarilyontheneedtobehonestwithyour
reader,thebenefitsofknowingwhereyourstoryisgoing,andwhyyoudontneedtobejealous
ofotherpeoplesplots.

Q&A
Questionsaskedbystudents,andmoreorlesstranscribedhere.
Howdoyoucomeupwithreallycrazybrilliantideas?

Mystrengthasawritercomesfromaloveofstories.WhenIseeanideaandthink
that
couldhavebeenawesome
mynextthoughtis
howcouldImakeitawesome?

HowdoIbalance
keepingthereaderinformed
with
maintainingnecessary
secrets
?MywritinggroupkeepssendingmequestionsthatIcantanswerwithout
givingthingsaway.

Whatthatmightmeanisyourenotadequatelyexplainingcharactermotivations.(Its
hardtodiagnosewithoutseeingthestoryinfrontofme.)Itsoundsliketheydont
understandwhythecharactersarebehavinginthewaytheyare.Its
veryimportant
to
makecharactermotivationsverycleartothereader.Beintentionalwhenyouvegota
characterwhosemotivationsareshifting(aswithBilbo,whoseprioritiesshiftfromIwant
tohavedinnertoIwanttohaveanadventure!).

Imstrugglingwithgettingnaturalsoundingdialogue.Myconversationsare
startingtomovetheplotinsteadofbeingnatural.

Maybethisisapointwhereyouwanttopracticedoingthingsintentionally.Analyze
dialogue,particularlyinmoviesandeverydayconversation.Ask,Whydoesthisfeel
natural?Howdoesthisadvancetheplotandexpresscharacterwhilesoundingnatural?
Maybetryfreewritingthecharacterstalkingsoyoucangettheirvoicesinyourhead,
andthentryrewritingthescenethatstrippingyouup.

Whataresomethingsyoudo,whenyourekindoflosingmomentum,togetyou
tofallbackinlovewiththestory?

Ohboy.Excellentquestion.WhenIgetinterruptedwhilewritingonebook,Iloseallmy
momentum.Thisisaseriousissue.Ivetriedanumberofstrategies.OnethingItryis
doingarevisiononwhatIvealreadygot.SometimesIllskipchapters(whichIvery
rarelydo)togettoaclimacticmomentinsteadofdoingthesetupmomentsbeforehand,
andthisworksveryverywellforme.Addinganewcharacterandwritingascenefrom
theireyescandoit.Writingashortpieceinthatworldcandoit.Tryafewofthoseand

seeiftheyhelp.

Isthereawaytouseclichesproperly?Howdoyoudothat?

Depends.Therearemultiplewaystouseclichesproperly.Avoidthecliche
turnsofphraseasmuchasyouavoidusingsynonymsforsaid(whichisdarnnearthe
lastthingyouwanttodo).Clichedproseisthesecondtolastthingyouwant,right
beforewritingthatissohopelessly,franticallycreativethatreadersvomit.

Ifyouretalkingaboutclichesinamoreofarchetypesense,well...letslookatthis.When
Rowlingwrote
HarryPotter
,boygoestowizardschoolwas
verymuch
acliche,butshe
madeitherownandgotawaywithit.ClichesinSFF(likethefarmboywhosavesthe
world,thegrizzledveteranwithaheartofgold,theelementalmagicsystem)are
occasionallyunavoidablethequestionis,howdoyoumakeityourown?Whatyouwant
isan
understandablearchetype
ratherthana
weariedandoverusedstereotype.

Anotherwaytodothisissubvertedtropes,whereyouuseaclicheandturnitonits
head.Be
verycarefulw
iththis.Ifyoudallytoolongwiththisclicheletmeshareastory
withyou.Myfirstbook,
Elantris
,cameoutaroundthesametimeanotherguysbook
cameout.Minedidwell,hisdidntsomuch,andweweretalkingaboutitlaterandhe
wondered,Ijustdontunderstandwhyminedidsopoorly.IdreadabitofitandIsaid,
Well,tobehonest,andnottryingtooffendyou,butyourbookfeltreallycliched.To
whichhesaid,Oh!Youjustdidntgetfarenough.Andheexplainedabouthowhe
subvertseverysingleoneofthosetropes.Anditsreallyawesome!Buttheproblemis
thatallthepeoplewhoarelookingforastandardclassicfantasywithallthetropeswill
bedisappointedbytheending.Andthepeoplewhoarelookingfornotfamiliarfantasies
willputitdownbeforetheygettothecoolparts!Sobecarefulwithsubvertedtropes.
Theyretricky.

Plot
Plotseemstocomedowntotwoprimaryconceptstome.Thefirstistheideaof
promises
the
secondistheideaofa
senseofprogress
.

Promises
Agoodbookisreallyaseriesofpromisesandtheir(usually)unexpectedand(mandatorily)
satisfyingfulfillments.Thebalancebetweenhowexpectedandunexpectedthestoryisdepends
onthegenreandyourowngoalsasastoryteller.

Forinstance,theregencyromances(whicharestillbeingwritten)arenotconcernedwith
unexpectedfulfillments.Inthefirstfewpages,aJaneAustenbookpromisesthatitwillinvolvea
strongromanticplot
withresolution
,thatitwill(probably)haveasignificantfemaleviewpoint,

thatitwillberatherwitty,andthatyouwillknowwithin50pageswhollbegettinghitchedatthe
end.Thereaders
desire
anunsurprisingresolution.

Forotherreadersinothergenres,thoseunsurprisingresolutionsarelessimportant.The
readersof
ASongofIceandFire(

GameofThrones
totheTVwatchershere)areaddictedto
thenoholdsbarredanybodycandieIdontremembermakingnopromisesstyleofstorytelling
thatseriesgivesthem.Itsacontinuumbetweenexpectedandunexpected,and,solongas
yourehonestaboutwhatkindofbookyourewriting,
neitherofthoseisbad.

Youwanttostartmakingthesepromises
onpageone
ifpossible.

Sense of Progress
Butisntitrealprogress?Well,no.Whenyourewritingthebook,youhave
absolutecontrol
overthebook.Youcanmakeonesecondofstorytimelast500pages.(Itsnotrecommended,
butitspossible.)Oryoucanpassamillionyearsinlikethreewords.Soyoucansqueezeor
expandbasicallyanything.Whatreaderswantisa
sense
ofmovementtowardthefulfillmentof
thepromisesyouvemade.Youreassuringthem,Motionishappening.We
are
moving
forward.

If,forinstance,youintroduceaplotwithatremendousthingswillexplodepromiseandthen
spend50pagesonareallyinterestingromance,
nomatterhowcooltheromanceist
hereaders
willfeellikethingsaremeandering.Youreallyjustdontwanttoletyourpromisesgetoutof
sighttooeasily.

Tools to Streamline a Plot


Therearea
bajillion
ofthese,buttheseareprobablythemostpopular.Youcanthinkofthemas
trainingwheelsifyouwant.

Student Beware!
Thesearenotchecklists.
Thedangerislookingatthemandfeelinglikeyoure
requiredt
o
followthepatternsdescribed.Scholarscameupwiththesebasedon
hundredso
fstories,but
everystorydoesnot
necessarily
followthem.Fundamentally,
theyaredescriptive,not
prescriptive.
Followthesetooreligiouslyandyouwillripthesoulrightoutofthestory.

Youarepermittedtousethese
ifyouwant.
Butyouarenotrequiredtoputtheminthere.

Three-Act Format
Thishelpsyouknow,moreorless,whentointroducebigchangesinyourstory.

ActOne:setsupwhothecharactersareandwhattheproblemsare.Usually25%ofthe
book.
ActTwo:dealswiththeproblems,andprobablyendswiththeheroindesperatestraits.
Often50%+.
ActThree:resolvestheproblems.Often25%orless.

Simplystated,inActOnethecharacterclimbsatreeinActTwoyouthrowrocksattheminAct
Threetheygetoutofthetree.

Theideahereistobreakthestoryupintothreepieces,soyoucanworkonthemindividually.
NotethatthisisaveryWesternformat.

Idontuse3Act,saysSanderson.Ilikewhatitdoes,itsagreattool.Itjustdoesntcome
naturallytome.Itworksverywellforfilmitworksnotaswellforepicfantasy.

The Heros Journey


Givesstorybeatsfortheprogressionofthestory.
1. Objectatrest:theHeroisathome,doingnothingmuch.
2. Call#1:theHeroissummoned.Heusuallyrefuses.
3. Call#2:theHeroissummoned.Hecannolongerrefuse.
4. JourneyBegins:whatitsaysonthetin.
5. LossofMentor:crapisnowreal.
6. DescentintoUnderworld:crapisnowrealer.
7. ConfronttheEvilWithinThemselves:crapisnowTHEREALEST.
8. Apotheosis/EverythingComesTogether:oftenusingskillslearnedbetweensteps4and
5,theHerosucceedsinhisgoal.
9. ReturnHome(Upgraded):inthefallingaction,theHerocomeshomehavingdefeated
theBadGuybut,morenotably,havingdefeatedtheBadGuy
inhimself
.

Thisishandyforseveralreasons.One,itgivesyouaroadmap(WhatdoIdonow?Oh,Iguess
itsUnderworldDescenttime)andtwo,itgivesahandycheatsheetforwhatreadersexpect
fromtheirstories.

Scene/Sequel
Asimple,directplottingmethodbasedaroundYes,But,No,And.

Yes,
lifeisgood,
but
mycatissuddenlymissing.
Solution:
Igotothepound.
No,
thecatsnot
there,
and
Iaccidentallysetfreealltheotheranimals.
Solution:
Iseekoutananimalcatcher.
Yes,
thecatchercaughtthecat,
but
itsactuallyanevilcatbountyhunterandtheyalreadysold
thecatforglue!

Youreforcingyourselftoescalateyourstory.Itforcesyoutocreatemoreconflict
and
togivea
senseofprogression.Basically,itsamoredevelopedversionofFortunately/Unfortunately.
(Thismightactuallybeagreatdevelopmentofthatgame,bytheway:introduceaproblem,next
personintroducesasolution,nextpersongivesa
Yes,But
andsoon.)

Plotting Methods
First,letsdigfurtherintoPromises/Progress.EverytypeofstorywillhavedifferentPromises
and,significantly,differentwaystogivetheimpressionofProgress.Forinstance:

Mystery
Aplot
about
information
Senseofprogressderivesfromclues/releasedinformation
Relationship
Aplot
about
peoplelearningtolikeeachother(fallinginloveorfallinginfriendship)
Senseofprogressderivesfrommomentstogether/changesintherelationship
Travelogue
Aplot
about
ajourneytowardaparticulardestination
Senseofprogressderivesfromaliteralprogressiontowardadestination
InternalConflict
Aplot
about
acharactersnecessarychange(becomingbraver,becomingkinder,
becomingworthyofanotherperson)
Senseofprogressderivesfromcharactersdifferentactions/reactions
NB:Youcanfitthistypeofstoryintodarnnearanyotherstorysomephilosophiesof
storytellingwilltellyouyou
have
toputitineverything

Plotting by Brackets
Youcanthinkofyourstoryasaseriesofnestedbrackets,alittlelikethis:

[
[
[

]
]
]
[] [ ]

Eachbracketrepresentsaconflictofvaryingsize.Thebiggest,asyoucansee,isintroducedat
thebeginningofthestoryandresolvedbytheendinfact,thatshowreadersdecidethatthe
storyisover:whetherthathugebrackethasbeenclosed.Themiddleofthestorymayinvolve
somesmallerconflictstokeepthingsmoving,butreallythereadersaretheretofindouthowthe
majorbracketsgetclosed.

Anyofthosebracketpairingscanbeanyofthepreviouslymentionedplottypes.Sothemajor
bracketscanbea
Mystery
plot,andthesecondarybracketsa
Relationship
plot.Thiscanwork
wellprovidedyoudontgetyourwirescrossed.

The Strange Attractor


Allstorieswill,tosomedegree,mixthefamiliarandtheunfamiliar.Thefamiliargroundsthe
reader,givingthemsomethingtohangontotheunfamiliar,though,iswhytheyrecomingtothe
storyinthefirstplace.SFFwriters,forinstance,cangetawaywithsomewhattiredplots
becausethe
unfamiliar
oftheirstoryistakencareofintheirsettingawellmadeSFFworldcan
pullinreaderseveniftheplotisabithackneyed.

Furthernotesonthisidealocated
here
.

Concerning Plot Envy


Writerswillinevitablybejealousofeachothersskills.AfriendofSandersonsonceadmitted
thatsheenvieshowwellhecancreateeightbajillionplotthreadsinthebeginningandtieallof
themtogetherbytheend,whileherbookstendtobeIreallywishthatIweremarried[insert
95%ofbook]OHIMMARRIED.Thethingis,though,herbooksarestillfantastic.

Ifyouaremakingpromisesand
keepingthem,
yourbookcanstillbeadelighttoread.Theres
nothingatallwrongwithmakingasimple,honest,thesepeoplearegoingtomeetandfallin
lovepromiseandkeepingit.Theresasense,sometimes,thatwehavetodosomething
unexpected
justtobeunexpected,
but
thisisntthecase
.

Ifyouremakinghugepromisesabout,say,amysteryandthenproduceananswerthatsnot
satisfyingeitherbecauseitsunexpected,orbecauseits
too
unexpectedthenyouraudience
willbe
severelyannoyedwithyou
.(Lookingatyou,LOST.)

You Are a Stage Magician


Takeasanexample
LordoftheRings:
attheendofthestory,Frodosuddenlydecideshes
goingtokeeptheRing.ThisisunexpectedbecausewevebeenfocusingontheBIG
bracketsthejourneyFrodohastotaketothrowtheRinginthehole.Butanotherbracketpair
hasbeennestedinsidethatbiggerstoryallalong:Frodosslowandinevitablecorruption.

Oneofthethingsweretryingtodoisholdupanideaandsay,Lookatthemonkey!Lookatthe
monkey!whilewerepalmingsomethinginourotherhand.Itsallaboutredirectingsomeone
elsesfocus.(Formoreontheideaofredirectingfocus,checkout
thisgreatTEDtalk
.)

How to Make a Book Guide


Sandersonwritesabookguidebeforestartinganynewbook.Themainconcernsare:
WhatpromisesamImaking(aboutthestyleofstoryandwhatwillhappenattheend)?
Whatkindofstoryisthis?
HowwillIgiveasenseofprogress?

Howwillmyresolutionfulfill
all
thepromisesthatneedtobefulfilled
inthisstory
?

Abookguidestartsbyidentifyingwhatkindsofplotswillbehappeninginsidethebook.What
areyourbigbrackets?Whatarethesecondarybrackets,thetertiarybrackets,etc.?(Notethat
therewillbesmallbracketschapterbychapterthisfocusesonthebigthings.)Hisoutlinesare
reallyjustlistsofgoalsandwrenchesthatwillbethrownintothosegoals.Eachchapter,he
simplycombinesseveralofthebulletpoints,suchthateachchapteradvancesafewofthemain
goals.

(NB:thisisa
very
similarmethodto
Rowlingsstyleofoutlining
,whichhappensonagrid:the
x
axisiseachofthemainplots,andthe
y
axisischapterbychapter.Thetwomainplotconcerns,
incolumns4and5,areadvancedalmosteverychapter,whiletheplotstotherightofcolumn5
occasionallyhaveblankspotsinthegraph.)

Session 5: Character ILikable, Active, Competent

Q&A: Plot
SomeQ&AwithBrandonSanderson.
Howdoyoupaceachapterproperly?

Writingabookis,for
most
ofus,isabouttakingsomethinglargeandbreakingitinto
smallerandsmallerpieces.Oneofthosepiecesisachapter.Agoodchapterwillhave
someofthesamefeelasagreatbookhas,inthatyouhaveabeginning,middle,and
end.Yourefamiliarwiththesortofrisingactionidea:sometimes,youllwanttoend
yourchapterrightattheheightoftheaction.Othertimesyoullenditwithasmall
resolution.

Ifyouchopthingsinthemiddle,thingswillbesortofjerky,veryexciting.Ifyouendon
theresolution,thingswillbemuchsmoother.Thrillerswillbestructuredsotheyalways
breakinthemiddle,thenclosethat,thenimmediatelyopenanotherproblemandbreak
inthemiddle.Itdragsreadersalongbythenose,whichcanbeveryveryfatiguing.
Readersnevergettorelax.Chaptersthatsortofwrapupattheendwillfeelmore
elegant,almost.

(Thisworksforparagraphs,too.Short,choppy,twosentenceparagraphswillhavea
yankingkindoffeeling,whereaslongparagraphshaveaslowersortofmovement.)

Thosearereallytwoextremes.Youcanfallinthemiddleifyouwant.Buteverychapter,
usually,shouldbeintroducingproblemsandthendealingwiththem.Thisrelatestothe
TryFailcycle,whereyouintroduceaproblemandtheherotriessomething
intelligent
and
reasonable
.Thisfails(usuallytwice)andthenfinallysucceeds.

Really,justdecidewhatyourchapteristryingtoachieve.Probablyitshouldhaveitsown
problems,butitshouldalsokeepthelargerendinginsight.

Whatsaneasywaytodo,like,aproofofconceptofanovelbeforeyouputtime
andenergyintosomethingthatmightactuallysuck?

Ifyouareanewwriter,itmostlikely
is
goingtosuck.Theonlywaytomakeitnotsuckis
toletitsuckfirst,untilyougetgoodenoughtowritethingsthatdontsuck.Inthatcase,it
doesnt
matter
whatyourewriting,aslongasyoureexcitedaboutit.

WhatIthinkyourealsoaskingis,Okay,Brandon,youvesaidthatideasarecheapand
whatIreallyneedispractice,but
someideasaredefinitelybetterthanothers
.The
problemhereisthatitssoindividualtoyouthatIcantactuallytellyouwhatmightend

upnotworkingforyou.Youvegottolearnyourownprocesswellenoughthatyoucan
tellwhatwillorwillnotworkforyou.Adiscoverywriterwillhavetowriteintothestoryto
findoutiftheycareaboutit.Anoutlinewriterneedssomethingexcitingtowritetoward.

Anythingyouwrite,youregoingtosay,Wow,thisisnotverygoodyet.Butwhatyou
reallyneedhereistohoneyourskills,getyourfundamentalsdown,learnyourscales,
andyoullbeabletomakethethingsyouwanttomake.(
Extremelyrelevantvideo.
)

Idowanttonotethatsometimesitisgoingtobeaslognomatterwhatyouwrite,and
youhavetopushthroughanyway.Itsnotallsunshineanddancingwithunicorns.

MywifeandIneedtovocalizethingsinordertofigureoutwhatourbooksare
reallyabout.Doyoudothat?Doyouevertrydifferentmethodslikethat?

Umerm,no.Imverysolitaryinmywriting.Thecollaborativewritingthingisnot
somethingIdoalotof.Alotofwritersdoitandloveitalot.Differentprocessesworkfor
differentpeople.Usewhatworksforyou.Ifitmakesyouwritegoodstuffyouenjoy
writing,thenitsworking.

Inthisclasswerewritingsortofchapterbychapterandthenhavingpeopleread
it.Doyourecommendthatfornormalbookwriting?

Mostly,Idsuggestfinishingabookbeforeyouworkshopit.Itsnotahardandfastrule.
Foralotofwriters,gettingsomethingcritiquedwhileyourewritingitwilldiscourageyou
waytoomuch.TheresalsothedangerthatyourwritinggroupwillsayWouldntitbe
awesomeif?andthensuddenlyitsacompletelydifferentbook.

Imtryingtomakeabelievable,historicallyviablemagicsystem,and[goeson
forsometimewithoutactuallyaskingaquestion].

Welltalkaboutmagicsystemsnextweek,butforrightnow,letsgobacktowhatIsaid
earlier:writingisbasicallybeingastagemagician.Withworldbuilding,youcandowhat
Tolkiendidandspend20years.Thatsperfectlylegit.Butifthebookdoesntdemand
that,thatsfinetoo.Eitherwayyouwantyourworldbuildingtohaveasortoficeberg
feeltoit.Youwanttoindicatetoyourreaderthatyouknowallofthisotherstuffbutyou
dontwanttothrowtheentireicebergatthem.Inepicfantasy,youwanttoimplyyouve
gota
wholelotoficeberg
eveniftheresnotalotunderneaththesurface.Inthingslikea
MichaelCrichtonbook,readersarentlookingforabigiceberg.Theyreactuallylooking
foraverysmalliceberg,thatsjustwhattheywant.

Idowanttobringupthatthesmall,concretedetailmatters
way
morethanapageof
descriptioninalotofplaces.Thinkaboutsomeonewhoknowsalotabouthorsesandis
talkingabouthorsesandboilthatdowntooneline.Comparethattowhatsomeonewho

doesnt
knowalotabouthorseswouldsay.Ifyourcharactertalksandthinkslikean
expert,youwillgiveasensethatthingsareveryreal.Alsothinkabouthowpeople
legitimatelytalk.Forinstance,noscientistevery
really
saysLetsgodosomephysics!
Inthesameway,nofalseworldmagewouldsay,Letsgodosomemagic.

Character
Arguablythemostimportantpartofthestoryinmostgenres.There
areg
enreswherethe
characterisalittlebitsecondarytotheplot,anditsalsoarguablethatfantasy/scifiis
distinguishedbyitsworldbuilding.However,greatworldbuildingwillnotmakeupforutterly
blandcharacters.Its
veryimportant
tomakethecharacterscompelling.

Recallfromanearlierlecturethethreequalitiesthatreadersoftenenjoyincharacters:
Active
Competent
Likable

Asalreadystated,twooutofthreewillsufficetomakeacompellingcharacterinthefirst
chapter,youcanevengetawaywithonlygivingthecharacter
one
ofthosethings.TheHeros
Journey,forinstance,willoftenstartoffwithsomeonewhois
just
likable
theygettobe
competentand/oractivelateron(Bilboisagreatexample).Anotherpopularoptionistostartoff
withnothingbut
active
(IndianaJones,forinstance,doesntimmediatelycommunicatehis
likablenessorcompetence,butdangifheisntactive).JamesBondmoviesroundoutthetrioby
introducingaridiculously
competent
character.

Likable
Likeabilityisincreasedtremendouslybyrelatability.Acharacterwithgoals,struggles,passions,
fears,andfailuresthatreadersrecognizeandresonatewithbecomesalmostinstantlylikable.

Anotherswiftwayofestablishinglikability:displayavaluedtraitinthecharacter.Everyday
humankindnessendearscharactersveryquickly(cf.
PettheDog
).Onthatcaninenote,readers
love
theunderdog.Acharacterwhogetspickedonbecomeslovable.

Perhapsthemostinterestingthing:readerswillquicklydevelopaffectionforcharacterswho
alreadyhave
friends
.

Active
ConsidertheVillainProblem,arecurringissueinstoriesbasedofftheHerosJourney:

IftheVillainhadntcomealong,thisHerowouldneverhavedone
anything.

Readerssympathizewithcharacterswho
dothings.
Ifthevillainofyourbookisthemostactive
persononstage,readerswillstartlikingthevillainwaymorethantheylikethehero.(Thisisonly
badifyouredoingitwithoutmeaningto.)

TheotherbigissueisthatifyouuseplotstructuresliketheHerosJourney,atthebeginningthe
hero
doesnotwant
toprotag.Welikereluctantheroes(because,ofcourse,itsrelatable).Andif
theherostartsoffbeingreluctant,itsthatmuchmoredramaticwhenhischaracterdevelopment
makeshim
superexcited
todoheroicthings.

So...whyisanactivecharactersoappealing,ifwefindreluctancerelatable?Firstofall,because
crapgetsdone
.Activecharacterskeepthingsfromgettingboringtheyadvancetheprogressof
thestory.Activityalsomakesthecharacteradmirablewelikereadingaboutdrivenpeople.

Ultimately,itsbasedinthis:
ineverycharacterwelike,weseeamixtureofwhoweareand
whowewanttobe.
(Thisbringsupsomethingvaluableaboutvillains:welldrawnvillainsoften
havealittlebitofusinsidethem.)

Often,newbieauthors
suck
atactivecharacters.Itcanbesomethingassimpleasstudyingfora
testorasweirdascollectingthelastfigurineinhisexpansiveandeclecticcollection.Bearin
mindthatacharacterdoesnothavetobe
gooda
ttheirpassionforthemtocomeacrossas
active.Startthestorywithyourcharacter
doingsomething.

Competent
Sandersondoesntgointothismuchatallinthislecture,butinpreviousyearsspendsalotof
timetalkingabouthowreadersloveitwhencharactersare
goodatstuff
.FlynnRiderisgoodat
twothings:(1)stealingthingsand(2)crackingwise.Thisendearshimtousdespitethefactthat
hesarrogant,callous,untrustworthy,manipulative,andtraitorous.Youwouldntwanttobe
friendswithFlynnRider,butyou
lovew
atchinghimdocoolstuff.

Manyofthecharacterswelovearepreternaturallygoodatoneortwoparticularthings.
HermioneisPreternaturallyIntelligentSamwiseGamgeeisPreternaturallyLoyalKatniss
EverdeenisPreternaturallyGritty.

Probablyyouwillnotfindyourselfbeingtoostingywithcharactersuperpowersthetrendis
moreoftentogiveyourcharacter
all
thepowers.Trytofocusthemintoonearea.

Character-as-Role
Woodencharactershappen.Itsathing.Often,thishappensbecauseyourewritingacharacter
intoa
role
.Charactersneedtohavea
realness
tothem,andtheycantdothatwhentheyre
createdaccordingtoachecklist.Itsratheresoteric,butrealnessoftenderives(inSandersons
opinion)fromcharacterswhohave
lifeoutsidetheplot.
Whatwouldthischaracterbedoingwith

his/herlifeiftheplothadneverbargedintotheirlife?Ifyoutookyourcharacteroutforcoffee,
whatwouldtheytalkabout?Canyouimagineyourcharacterinanycontextbuttheplottheyve
gottentangledin?

Considertheevolutionofsuperherocomics.Batman,inhisoriginalincarnation,was
just
a
vigilante.Supermanwas
alwaysheroing.
Asthegenreevolved(andasStanLeebecome
involved)superheroesstartedhavingreallives.SpidermanhasclassestopasstheFantastic
Fourhavetheirinternalconflictstoworkout.Theyexistasmorethanjustsuperheroes.

Yourgoalisto
keepyourcharacterfrombeingdefinedbyasinglething,
particularlytheirrole.
Charactersdefinedbytheirrolesquicklybecomestereotypes.

Character Considerations
Roundcharactersarealltheragethesedays,andforgoodreason:aroundcharacter
communicatesrealness.Fourfactorscontributetoroundness:
FlawsSandersonsplitstheseintoHandicapsandFlaws.
Handicaps
arethingsthe
charactersmustovercomethatarenttheirfault(andprobablywontbesolvedbythe
end)
Flaws
areoftenthecharactersownfault,oratleastsomethingthecharacter
must
solveiftheyregoingtobewhole.
Passionscharacterswhoareonlypassionateabouttheplotget
veryirritatingveryfast
.
Morespecifically,acharacterwith
onlyonepassiong
etsirritatingbecausetheyreso
boring
.
Quirksabsurdlypopularmethodand
sotremendouslyeasy
tooverdo.Feelfreetogive
characterssomethingtotallyperpendiculartotheirexpectedrole,butbecarefulabout
makingthemannoying.Dontletaquirkdefinethecharacter.Inaddition,itsadvisedthat
thequirknothaveanybearingontheplot.Itsnotaplotthingitsacharacterthing.Its
wherethecharacter
deviates
fromtheirestablishedrole.
Expertisecf.
Competence
.

Exercise:
trytakingallthecharactersinyourstoryandslottingthemintodifferentroles.The
loveinterestbecomesthewiseoldmentor,thepluckysidekickbecomesthemaincharacter,
etc.Itmightnotbeawisecourseforwritingawholebook,butitsahandytrickforfiguringout
whyanycharacterisinhis/hergivenrole.

Exercise:
puttwocharactersintothebookwhofitintothesamerole.Youllforceyourselfto
distinguishbetweenthem.

Mostofall,rememberthat
everyonesaherointheirown
way
head.
Everybodysnarrating
theirlifestorywiththemselvesasthegoodguy.Eventhemookwhosguardingthecastlegate.
Treatthemappropriately.

Session 6: Setting IYou Cannot Do Everything

Q&A: Character
SomeQ&AwithBrandonSanderson,hypotheticallyfocusingonthepreviouslecture.

Howdoyouplansomethinglargescale?

AlotofusreadSFFbecausewe
love
readinghugeprojects.Backintheday,backwhen
SFFlivedmostlyinmagazines,writerswhowantedtoworkinthegenrestartedwith
shortstories,whichwerepublishedinthosemagazines.Mygenerationstartedreading
rightaroundthetimethatmagazinesstarteddying,andalsowhenSFFmigratedintoa
novelcentricenvironment.Sowhenmygenerationstartedpublishing,veryfewofushad
readshortstoriesandsoveryfewofushadmastereditorwantedtowriteit.Sothatsort
ofapprenticeinSFFbywritingshortstoriesandthenmoveintoalongerformhasdied
out.

Mygenerationgrewupreadingepicfantasy,soweallwantedtostartoutbywritingthat.
Learningtowriteepicfantasyis
hard
.Shortstoriesarehardtoo,butyoucanmakeone
ofthosealotquickerthanyoucanmakeawholelongnovel.

AlotofaspiringwriterswillstartthinkingabouttheirBigProjectintheirteens,andthen
theyllspendfifteenyearsthinkingabout
justthat
.Itsanidealstoryintheirheads,andit
transformsmultipletimes,andeventuallyyouvegotthis
perfectstory
thatsactuallykind
ofjustahugehodgepodgeofideasthatyouvebeenhavingforthelastfifteenyears.

Thenumberonething
Iwouldsuggestyoudois
throw
allofthat
awayandstart
fresh
withsomethingelse.Imnotsayingyoullneverwritethatone,butifyoudont
havetheexperiencewriting,youcantpossiblyhandlethathugething.Learninghowto
writeanovelisthenumberonethingthatsgoingtohelpyouwritelargescale.

Onceyouhaveagraspofhowtodoasinglebook,youllhaveabetterchanceof
understandinghowtoputtogetheraseries.TheThreeActformat,forinstance,works
wellinsideasinglebookitalsoworksforatrilogy.Reallyitsjustamatteroflearning
whatworksforyouonaonebookscaleandthenexplodingthatalittle.

Ifyouredoingmultiplefirstpersonperspectives,howdoyouhandlethat?

ThethingIveseenmostoftenistitlingthechapterafterthecharacterwhosehead
yourein.Thatsthesimplestmethod.Anotherwayofdoingitistryingtomakeyour
narratorshaveverydistinctvoices.

Setting
Simultaneouslythemostandleastimportantofthethreemajorcomponentsofwriting(inSFF).
Mostimportantbecauseits
why
yourewritingSFFasopposedtoYAromance.Leastimportant
becauseitcannotholdanoveluponitsownuselesscharactersorablandplotwillkillyour
booknomatterhowgreatyoursettingis.(Note:settingworkswellinshortstoriesbecause
shortsareveryideadriven,andsettingisallaboutthoseideas.)

Settingis
great
.SettingiswhatpullsfolksintoSFFmoreoftenthannot.Settingiscultureand
socioeconomicsandpoliticsandmagicsystemsandcustomsandreligionandmood.Its
especiallyimportantforSFFbecause,really,whenyouthinkaboutit,itcando
anythingt
hatthe
othergenrescando,
but
itcanhavedragons.

Theotherawesomethingaboutsetting?Itsfreeform.Whereplotandcharacterareconcerned,
youraudienceisaheadofyou:mostofthepiecesforthosethingsexistalreadyandyour
readershaveseenthembefore.Plotstructuresandcharacterarchetypesarenotreallyupfor
inventionanddebate.

Yoursetting,though?Theglovesare
off
.Youcandowhateveryouwant.

Youwantyoursovereignnationtomakepolicybasedonwhereandwhenthehedgehogspop
outoftheirholes?Youcandothat.Youwanttimetobe100%cyclical?Youcandothat.You
wantyourplanettobeamassivediskrestingonthebacksoffourelephants,whothemselves
standontheshellofacosmictortoise?Bygum,
youcandothat
(althoughitsnot
recommendedbecauseTerryPratchetthasbeendoingitforawhileandbythispointheskind
ofgotthemarketcornered).

ThismakesthecurrentproblemofSFFalittleironic:wecando
whateverwewant.
Butwekeep
onapingTolkien.Newandoriginalideasarewhatdrawustothegenreinthefirstplace.We
arethemostimaginativegenreouttherenooneshouldbesaying,Yeah,fantasyiskindofall
thesame.

The Basics of Setting


RulenumberoneofSetting:
youcannotdoeverything
.

Tolkientried.Ittookhim20yearstoputtogetherMiddleEarthandhe
still
didnotquiteget
everythinginthere.Therearestillvisibleseamsinthatbooksworldbuilding.

Rulenumbertwo:
everythingfiltersthroughyourcharacters
.Ifyourcharacterdoesnotcare
aboutaparticularaspectofyourSetting,youwouldbeilladvisedtocarryoninthatvain(thats
apunand
Imnotsorry
).Readersfollowthecharactersattention.

Youmayexperienceanurgetoshowoffyourworldbuildingperhapstohavetwocharacters
onaroadtripstopataspecificlandmarkwhereyouwillsuddenlygivea
twentypageessayon
thebattlethathappenedthere
.Youarenotaddingdepthtoyourworld:youareaddingpages.
Theyarenotthesame.

Yourprimaryconcernswillbe:
1. HowcanIdoanoriginaltakeonthis?
2. HowcanImakeitasourceofconflict?
3. HowcanImakeitasourceofpassion(relevantandsignificant)toacharacter?
4. Doesitlenditselftosomecooldescription?
5. *SandersonsZerothLaw:Erronthesideofawesome.

Whatwearedoinginthisgenreis
stuffthatisawesome
.ThisiswhatseparatesSFFfrom,say,
poetry.
Wewanttomakedragons.
Dragonsdonotmakesense,buttheyare
cool
.Some
thingsareawesomebecausetheyareawesome.Alwaysbedoingthingsthatyouthinkare
awesome.

Physical Setting
Thisissettingthatwouldexistregardlessofsentientraces.Itllinclude:
Topography
Climate
Wildlife
Magic(sometimes)
Atmosphere
Lighting
Elementsandgeology
Races

Andreallyeverythingelse.Whatyourelookingforisanideathatyouthinkisreally
stinking
cool.ThefantasysettingthatisbasicallyMedievalEnglandthingisgettingtiredthesedays.
Lookforsomethingthat(a)willstandoutand(b)iscooltoyou.

Cultural Setting
Thisisadirectresultof(andverydirectlyrelatesto)thesentientracesinthebook.Thesecan,
ofcourse,differaccordingtothealternateculturesinthebook.Itllinclude:
Parent/childrelationships
Genderroles
Religion
Government
Education
Military/warfare
Economics

SFFgetsalotofflackforitstreatmentofthistopic(whatareallthosearmies
eating
?).Itcanbeworthgivingthissomeextrathoughtifonlysoyoucankeep
yourheaduparoundthefolkswhoknowalittlebitaboutthisstuff.
Folklore
Music
Art
Ethnicity(andhowtheydealwithit)
Demographics(andhowtheyrelatetoeachother)
Recreation

SFFspendsalotoftimetalkingaboutHistoryandLinguisticsand(sometimes)Ethnicitybut
almostnoneonRecreation,FamilyRelationships,orEducation.Thatswhythegenrefeelsstale
alot:SFFwritersputalltheirfocusinthesameareas.

Besuretoletyourcoolideasplaytogether.LettheTopographyinfluencetheReligion.Letthe
GovernmentinfluencetheMagic.Whentheyinfluenceandplayoffeachother,theyllgenerate
greaterdepthforyourstory.

Sandersons Laws
Sandersondevisedtheseasadvicetohimself,tomakehisstoriesbetter.Theyreallmoreor
lessthemedtowardmagic,butcanbegearedtowardothersettingaspects.Additionally,theyre
notnecessarilygoingtoapplytoyou,butitcanthurttolearnthem.

ZerothLaw:
Erronthesideofawesome.

FirstLaw:
Yourabilitytosolveproblems(inasatisfyingway)withmagicisdirectly
proportionaltohowwellthereaderunderstandssaidmagic.
Corollary:
Themoreyouexplainthemagic,thelesssenseofwonderremaining.
Tip:
Yournumenous,notexplainedmagicwillfeelalotlessdeusexmachinay
if,whenyoufixproblemswiththemysticalmagic,youcause
biggerp
roblems.

SecondLaw:
Limitationsofpowersareusuallymoreinterestingthanthepowers
themselves.

ThirdLaw:
Expandwhatyoualreadyhavebeforeyouaddsomethingnew.
Note:
Thisdoesntmeanthoseotherthingscant
exist
,butthemorethingsyou
cramintoyourlensthemoredifficultitistocareaboutanyofthem.The
HollywoodVillainSequelProblemisthatifyouhaveonevillaininmovie1,you
needtwooftheminmovie2,andthenthreeoftheminmovie3.Thismakesall
threeofthevillainsinthatlastfilm
slightlylessthanathirda
scoolandinteresting
astheonevillaininthefirstfilm,anditswhy
SpiderMan3
wasnt
asgreatasit
couldvebeen
.

Session 7: ProseThe Grand Skill

Q&A: Prose
Nowthattheclasshashadatasteofallthemajortopics,theQ&Aisopenseason(notthatit
wasntbefore).

Whatgetsyoustuckwhenyourewriting?Howdoyougetbeyondit?

Igetstuckwhenthingsdontmakesense.Solvingitcomesdowntoknowingmyown
writingstyle.Forme,blockscancomedowntoafewdifferentthings.OneisthatIjust
dontwanttowrite,whichhappens.Whenitcomestothat,Iwriteitanyway,Isetit
aside,andIcomebacktoitthenextdaytoseeifitreallywasasbadasIthoughtitwas.
Ifyes,Ithrowitaway,butnowmysubconscioushasbeenworkingonitandhowtofix
itprobably.IfItryagainandagainanditstilldoesntwork,Itakeastepbackandask
Howmuchdoesthis
actuallyi
mpactthebook?

Atworst,Ihavetoscrapthewholethingandstartover,whichisterriblebecause
momentumis
king
inhowIwork.Sometimesthatworksoutbeautifully,sometimesit
doesnt.

IvefoundImprettygoodatmakingscenesthatworkthatarefunorclimacticor
interesting,scenesthatjust
work
butIstruggletofillthegapsbetweenthose
sceneswiththenecessarystuff.HowdoIdoit?

Ooh.Thisisgonnabedifficultformetodiagnose.Iveknownpeoplewhowritelikethis
andbasicallytheirprocessistokeeponwritingfunscenes,justpagesandpagesof
differentcoolscenes,andthentheendstepoftheirprocessisstringingthemtogether
intoabook.Icannotcomprehendthat.ThatwouldnotworkformeatallbecauseIcant
figureoutwhereeachcharacterisemotionally.Filmactorscandothatsortofthing,
becausetheyrealwaysyoudontfilmamoviechronologically,ithastofitwiththe
budgetandwhosatworkthatdayandallsortsofthings,sotheybouncearound.

Thatsaid,ifyourewritinggreat,funscenes,thats...likethebestfirstworldproblemto
have.Ifitwereme,mysolutionwouldbetotaketwoscenesthatseemliketheyresort
ofclosetogetherandthentrytowriteascenethatconnectsthemandisfuntome.Itll
beboringtoyou,soyoudneedtofindsomewaystomakeitentertainingtoyou.You
coulddothatwithaoneoffviewpointifyouwantedtakeascenethroughtheeyesofa
waiterandmakethatwaiterreallyinterestingandserveallthesebizarrecharacters.You
couldalsodoitwithadifferentsetting.Reallyjustmakesurethatsomethinginteresting
isgoingonwhileyouregettingyourboringstuffoutoftheway.Dontdothe

expositionwhilestrollingthingfromtheStarWarsprequels.

Whatdoyoudoforrevising?Doyoureviseasyougo,orattheend?

So,revision.Revisionisthe
worst
.Iloatheit.OneofthereasonsItooksolongtoget
publishedwasthatIneverrevised,Ijustwroteanewbook.Myprocessforrevisionisto
makeitverygoalbased.Iidentify,WhatdoIwanttoachieveinthisdraft?andthenI
trytomakethathappen.

Forinstance,youllprobablyhaveaPolishingdraftatsomepoint.Inthatdraftyoure
lookingtocutawaystuffthatsrepetitious,yourelookingforwordchoicereallyyour
goalthereistoincreaseclarityand,ifitsyourthing,beauty.WhenIdoapolishdraft,I
focus
only
onthosethings.Notcharacteractions,notrelationships,notevents.
Just
the
smallscale.

WhatyoureprobablyaskingishowtodotheEditingdraft,orthemajorchangesdraft.
Imaquintessentialoutliner,oraonedrafter.Ihavetohavemymomentumandwrite
chronologicallybycharacterviewpoint.WhatthismeansisthatifIhaveagreatidea
midwaythroughthebook,itisbetterformetoinsertthatideaandpretenditsbeenthere
thewholetimethanitistogobackandstartthewholethingover.

Thismeansmyfirstdraftsare
bad
.YoucanseemoreofthiswithWarbreakerthats
thebookIwroteandpostedasIwasgoing,sootherpeoplecouldseehowmywriting
processgoes.

ThenextdraftiswhereIfixthemajorproblems,likecharacterswhojustvanishhalfway
through.IhaveadocumentonmycomputerthatsnamedNotesforNextRevision,
whichiswhereIkeepcommentstomyselfaboutthingsthatneedtobechanged.My
seconddraftImmostlyfixingthebigproblems,makingsurethatthewholebookworks
togetherratherthansuddenlyjumpingtherailsinthemiddle.MyseconddraftiswhenI
startfillingouttheNotesforNextRevision.Theyresmallscalethingsthatneedtobe
fixed,butIdontfocusonthoserightnow.Imfocusingonmakingthenovelcohesive.

Draftthreeismyfirstpolish,whereItakecareofthethingsthatInoticedintheNotes.I
sendthisdrafttomyeditor,myagent,mybetareaders,andthentheirfeedbackgoes
intotheNotes.

DraftfouriswhereIintegratetheirfeedback.DraftfouriswhenIdothereally
discouragingeditorthings.Atthispoint,IorganizetheNotesaccordingtoseverity.Iread
throughthewholebooklookingforthingstochange.

Afterthatitsbasicallybugfixing.OccasionallyIllneedtodoadraftfivethatsasbigas
draftfour.

Iwanttonotethatthisis
verydifferent
fromhowdiscoverywritersdorevision.Ask
Jansey(sp?)whenshecomesin,becauseshesverydifferentandverygoodatrevision.

Doyoueverabandonadraft?Isiteversobadthatyoujustgiveitup?

Ifinishthedraftunless...well,thereareonlyafewdraftsIveneverfinished.Onewas
Mythwalker
,whichIdidntfinishbecauseitfelttoogeneric,itfelttoomuchlikewhatId
alreadydone.Anotheronewas
DeathbyPizza
,whichwasmyfirstexperimentationwith
urbanfantasynecromancerwithapizzajointanditwassomethingIdonlydonefor
funinbetweentwootherbooks,whichIdoalotandveryfewofthosegetreleased.
Anotheronewas
LiarofPartinel.
ImnotsureifIfinishedthefirstdraftofthatone,butI
definitelydidntdomultiplerevisionsonit.ItsverydangerousformeifIputdowna
book,likewritefourorfivechaptersandthenstop,itsextremelydifficultformetoget
backintoit,whichisbad.

WhatIrecommendfornewauthors,particularlywhenyourskillisstilldeveloping,isjust
to
finishbooks
.Ifyoudont,yourenotlikelytoeverlearnhowto,andthenyoullalways
bedisappointedwithyourstuff.Youwontprogressasquicklyasyouneedto.

Doyouhaveanyrecommendationsforhowtofinishabookifyouveneverdoneit
before?

Justdoit.

Everyperson
Iveknownpersonallywhosfinishedafirstbook,theendinghasbeena
disaster.Meincluded.Mostofus,whenwefirstfinishabookitssortofjust,Okay,this
islongenough,letswrapitupnow.Atthejourneymanlevelofwriting,yourelearning
howtowritegreatscenes,butyouprobablydontknowyethowtopullitallintoabook.
TheonlywayIveknowntolearnthatistopractice.

ImstrugglingalittlewithvoiceIvegotfivedifferentcharacters,buttheirvoices
arethesame.

OnethingIveheardforthisproblemistotakeawellreceivedbookandimitatethe
voicesinthere.Itsonethingthatartistsdoalot,wheretheylllearnhowtopaintlikean
ImpressionistoraRealistorwhatever.Sotakeacharacterorawriterwithareally
distinctivevoiceandtrytoimitateitaswellasyoucan.

Doyoudoanythingbeforeyoustartwriting?

Idonthavealotofwritingrituals.Imaveryworkmanlikewriter,soIjustgetup,Iread

myScriptures,andIturnmymusiconandIwrite.

Ihaveacharacterwhosbasicallyagod,andImtryingtofigureouthowtoset
limitsonhispowerlevelsohecanbeinteresting.

AskHowardaboutthis.Inhiscomic,hehasbasicallyagodcharacter,andhesolvesit
reallywell.

Thereareacouplewaystosolvethis.Oneistoconfrontthemwithproblemstheirdeific
powerscantsolvethisistheSupermansolution.Anotheristoconfrontthemwitha
problemthat
only
theycansolve,andthatwilltakealltheirresources.

Prose
ThegrandskillofSFFwritersistheabilitytoconveysettingandcharactertothereaderinaway
thatisengaging,powerful,andnotboring.Therearemultiplewaystotakethison,andnoneof
themarerequiredagain,itsallaboutwhatworksforyourstory.

Window Pane Prose


Thisstyleofwritingconsidersproseawindowthroughwhichyouseethestory.Basically,you
wantyourprosetranslucent.Theresanextensiveessayonthissubject,buttheconcepthas
kindofsteppedoutintotheworldandworksonitsownnow.[Note:thisis
extremely
popular
withwritersinDocsparticulardemographic.Docsubscribestothis,Jenkinssubscribestoit,
etc.]

Stained Glass Prose


Moreorlesstheoppositeofwindowpaneprose,whereyourwordchoiceissopowerfuland
evocativethatitcanaddtothestorybydrawingattentiontoitself.Thisdoesntnecessarily
meanitsoverlyfloweryorpurple,justthatitsveryintentionallybeautiful.Thisisdifficulttodo
withoutbeingselfconscious,whichcanturnthewholethingintoafarce.

Hybrids
ItsextremelydangeroustowriteWindowPane90%ofthetimeandStainedGlasstheother
10%.Whenitssurroundedbyatransparentstyle,StainedGlasslooksalotmorelikepurple
prose,whichisthewritingequivalentofcakingyourentirefaceinmakeup.

The Pyramid of Abstraction


Asyourwritinggrowsmoreabstract,itbecomeseasiertotalkaboutloftyideasandharderto
keepthereaderinvolvedinthestory.
Youcanvisualizethisasatrianglethingsupatthetop

aremoreabstract(narrower,hardertomakereadersconnectwith)andthingsatthebottomare
moreconcrete(broader,easytovisualize).

Thisiswhyalotofwriterswillstartoffwitha
grounding
element,someshortsettingdescription
sothatnocharactersaretalkinginawhiteroom.

Writersareproneto
navelgazing,
inwhichthecharacterbroods.Take,forinstance,Batman
mullingabouthowhisdeadparentswouldfeelabouthowheshandlingthecrimeproblemin
Gothamandwhethertheywouldbeproudofhimorashamedandwhatifhesactuallydoing
somethingtheywouldntapproveofbutreallyhesprobablyrightbecausethey
tried
tochange
thecityandtheyfailedandtheydiedbuthesgoingtochangethingsby
beatingup
psychopaths

blech

ThissortofisallthewayupinthePyramidofAbstraction.Itshardtokeepthereadergrounded
whileyourcharacterismumblingabouttheirmoralphilosophyandflashbackingtohowthey
developeditwhentheirfamilysbutlerwastalkingaboutKant.

LoveandmoralityandheroismfitatthetopofthePyramid,obviously.Wherewouldyouput
dog?Ifyousaidbottom,sorry,tryagain,buttakecomfortinthefactthateverybodyelse
thoughtthatwayatfirst,too.

Dogisactuallyanabstractconcept.ItslikeaPlatonicIdeal,becauseifyousayittotwo
differentpeople,theyllgettwodifferentimages.DogisonlyslightlyloweronthePyramidthan
lovebecausewhenyousaydog,youregivingyourreaderalmostnothing.Youcandrag
almostanythingdownfromitsplaceonthePyramidofAbstractionbygiving
specificdetail
.Her
Majestyscorgiiswaymorespecificthandog.Thedanger,ofcourse,isthataddingdetail
oftenrequiresaddingwords,whichslowsyourprosedownalot.

Oneofthebestwaystogoaboutthisistopickoneortwosignificantdetailsforyourscene,and
describethosewiththeirownconcretedetails,andthesewillhelpevokeyourscene.Using
multiplesenses,ratherthanjustsight,willalsohelpsolidifythestory.

DobecautiousofusingTheGorillainthePhoneBooth.Ifyougiveoffhandeddescriptionof
somethingextraordinary,likeagorillainthephonebooth,youllredirecttheaudiencesattention
withoutnecessarilymeaningto.

Takenotethatepicfantasycanhandlemoredescriptionthan,say,anurbanthriller,buttrynot
togooverboard.Precisionandeconomyareyourprimarygoalsinprose,evenifyouredoing
StainedGlass.

It
is
possibletodotoolittledescription,butitsextremelyrare.

Infodumps
You,asanSFFwriter,havealotofreallycoolstuffyouwanttogetacrosstoyourreader.Rule
numberoneisthatyoudontneedtogivenearlyasmuchasyoufeelyouhavetogive.Erron
thesideofleavingitout.Yourreaderswillletyouknowwhentheyreconfused.

Ingeneral,newwriterstrytostufftoomuchin.Therewas,inearlyfantasy,atrendtoward
threepageProloguesthatexplainthewholeofthestoryworldinincrediblydry,boringdetail.
Youcanstilldoprologues,butreadersreallywanttostartwithconflictandcharacterandthen
workthesettinginlater.Readershavegottentoosophisticatedtoreadatravelogueatthe
beginningoftheirnovels.

Rulenumbertwoistosetyourtoneearlyandhonestly.

Rulenumberthreeistobeunobtrusive.Onewaytodothatisthecharacterinschooltrope,
wherealectureonthemagicsystemishappening,butitsbrokenupwithcharacterandconflict
sothatyouonlyincludethemostnecessarydetails.Anotheristohavecharactershave
natural
conversations(or,better,
arguments
)aboutthethingsyouwanttoexposit.

Whenyouredoingthisexposition,becautiousaboutcreatingGreatWallsOTextatthe
beginning,becausetheycommunicatetothereader,
Steep
learningcurvedenseprose
readerbeware.Iftheycomeinandtheyseesomethingalittlemorebrokenup,withsmaller
paragraphsandintersperseddialogue,theyllconsideritafastmovingbook.

Really,thegrandskillisjusttheabilitytocommitinceptiononyouraudience,whereyou
convincethereaderthattheyrewatchingthemaincharactersargumentwithahorsemerchant,
when
really
youreslippingindetailsabouthowthatcharacteryearnstobecomeashipcaptain
and
thatyoursettingissteampunky
and
thatthecharacterispoor
andt
hatthecharacteris
extremelybrusqueandstrugglestocommunicatehisfeelings
and...
.

Q&A Again

Howcanyoustartwithanexcitingsceneandthentransitioninto,like,lorestuff?

Forthatstuff,itslargelypersonaltaste.Onethingthatisreallyhelpfulforthisisthe
prologue.Youcansetuptoneandloreinthatprologue,althoughyouhavetobecareful
withthem.Thebabyisrescuedandthenfosteredoutandthen,like,18yearslater
thatsthemaincharacterisoneofthe
most
clichedthingsinprologues.Thatdoesnt
meanitcantbedonewell,becausethatswhatHarryPotterdidanditsafantasticbook,
butitsdangerous.

Isitpossibletoshowtoomuchandnotgiveenoughofthecharactersreaction?

Yes.IvenoticedthisalotmorewithmyYAstuffthanmyadultfictionstuff.Onewayto
doitistosortofletthecharactermuseonsomethingandbreakuptheirfeelingsabout
somethingwiththeirconsciousthoughts,likedialogue.

[somethingunintelligibleaboutshowv.tell]

Telling
iswritingHewaslonely.
Showing
cangiveusthespecifictypeoflonelinessand
letsthereaderinferthingsanddevelopanemotionalconnectionwithcharacters.
Showingthelonelycharactersittingatthelunchroomtablebyhimself,listeningintothe
conversationsofothersandwhisperingtohimselfwhathewouldsayifhewerelucky
enoughtobepartoftheirgroup,canbemorepowerfulthanHewaslonely.

Doyouhaveanyrulesofthumbfordolingoutcluesinamysteryplot?

AgoodoneisMentionitthreetimesbeforeitbecomesrelevant.Testreadersaregood
forthis.Erronthesideofbeingalittlemoreobviousthanyouthinkyouneedtobe.As
before,itsreallyjustaboutgivingasenseofprogression.

[somethingunintelligible]

Readersarebetteratpickingupshowsthanyouthinktheyare.Theyareworseat
pickingupcluesaboutthelargescaleplotthanyouthinktheyare.Rememberthatyou
cannot
fooleveryone,andifyoudidthenyouprobablywroteabadbook.Thebest
reveal,tome,iswhenthemajorityofthereadersfigureitoutoneparagraphbeforeits
revealed,andtheyreexcited/worriedthattheyreright.

Session 8: Prose IIIShop It

Q&A: Assorted

Howdoyouhandlestubborncharacters?

Itlldependonwhatyourarcis.Youmightwantyourcharactertoovercometheir
stubbornnessinsidethebook,andyoumightnot.Somecharacterswillbeveryawareof
theirownflawsandtryingtofixthemoracknowledgethemorsomething.Otherswillbe
lessselfawareandmoreinstinctive.

Onethingthatshelpfulismayberunningyourcharacterthroughascenethatisnt
relevanttotheplotatallandseeinghowthecharacterreacts,soyouunderstandtheir
idiosyncraciesbetter.Andthenyoucandothatagainattheendofthebookandseeif
thecharactersreactionsaredifferent.

[somethingunintelligibleaboutbookreleases]

Idonthavemuchsayinwhenmybooksgetreleased.Alotofitdependsonwhatthe
publisherwantstodoandalsowhenIturnthebookin.Onebigbenefittopublishingin
fallisthatyougettheChristmasseason,whichisgreatforsales,butifabookis
publishedinthespringthereslesscompetitionforbestsellerlists.Bestsellerlist
placementisimportantbecausebooksellersusethatastheirgaugeforwhichbooksthey
oughttogiveprideofplaceto.

Doyoupickanaspectofyourwritingandfocusonitwhenyouwriteabook?

Yes.Significantly.In
Warbreaker
youcanprobablytellthatImtryingtoworkonhumor,
in
WayofKings
Imfocusingonworldbuilding.Obviouslyyouwanttogetbetterat
everythingthemoreyouwrite,butitcanbehelpfultofocusonjustoneaspectofyour
craftinanyparticularproject.Shortscanbereallygoodforthis,too
TheEmperors
Soul
wasmeseeingifIcouldwriteastorythatbasicallytakesplaceinonlyoneroom,
and
Legion
ismetryingtodoacontemporarydetectivestory.

Whatkindoftimecommitmentdoesittaketobecomeagreatwriter?

Thatsgoingtodependalotonwhereyourskillleveliswhenyoustartandalsoonyour
ownstyleofwriting.EricFlint(sp?)describeshimselfasabingewriter.Tomy
knowledgehisstylehasalwaysbeentakingthreeorfourmonths,andwrite12hours
everyday,andgetthebookoutofhissystemandthenhewontwriteformonths.My
friendJansyisalsoabingewriter.

Imyselfamadailyquotawriter.Iwriteeverydayconsistently,andIneeda
block,
not
interspersedin30minutebites.

Otherwritersaregreatatdabblewriting,wheretheydothosesmall,bitesizechunksof
writingandthentheywatchTVorsomething.

Wesaywriteeveryday,buttheresabigoldasteriskonthat.Reallyitsvery
individualized.Youhavetofigureoutwhatworksforyou.Bearinmind,though,that
mostpeopleneedyearsofdoingathingbeforetheybecomeamasterofaform.Thats
theideaof10,000hours.

Ifyoureanewwriter,butyoucantgetpublished,whenshouldyoustartthinking
aboutselfpublishing?

Itrytoavoid
should
inthisclass,soImgoingtoavoidsayingthat.Imtryingtogiveyou
asmanyyoucanandifyoudlikestatementsaspossible,insteadofyoumustor
youshould.Withthatsaid,selfpublishingtodayis
extremely
viable.Therearewriters
todaywhoaremakingalivingdoingfulltimeselfpublishingandtheyworkcompletelyoff
ofelectronicpublishing.

Whenshouldyoubeconsideringit?Itdependsonyourownfeelings.Ifhavingprint
editionsinthebookstoresisabigdealtoyou,selfpublishingisntyourjam.Ifyouhate
doingyourowncoverdesignorhiringacoverdesigner,orhiringaneditoryourself,or
doingallyourownmarketingpursuingtraditionalpublishingisthebestoptionforyou.
ButifyoufeellikeIcoulddoallthatthenmaybeyoushouldpursueselfpublishingfrom
thegetgo.

Sowhatistheshould?The
should
isbasedonwhatyouwant,whatyourecomfortable
with,andwhatyourecapableofdoing.Ifyoureonlygoingtowriteabookeveryfour
years,selfpublishingwill
not
payyourbills.

Thoughtsononlinewritinggroups?

Ipersonallydonotlikeonlinewritinggroups.Ipreferbeingabletoseethebody
languageofpeoplewhoarereadingmystuff.

Prose Workshop
Duringthissegment,Sandersonreviewsseveralsubmissionsfromhisownstudents,looking
specificallyforwaystoshowinsteadoftell,forinstancesoftoomuchwordiness(ortoolittle),
repeatedconstructions,phrasingthatgoestoohighonthePyramidofAbstraction,andother
smallbutsignificantwritingbugaboos.


Itis,however,nearlyimpossibletoreadthetextontheprojector,soIvecollatedSandersons
personaltips:

StartbyturningonTrackChangesandturningoffAutocorrect.Sandersonalsolikes
havingtheDocumentMapup(whichisnotafeatureImfamiliarwith).
Followtheviewpointcharactersattentiondontlarkoffontothingsthecharacterdoesnt
notice
unlessyoureallyknowwhatyouredoing.
Thestyleinvogueistokeepyourself
confinedtoonecharactersheadanddownplaythelittledidheknowstyledramatic
irony.
Bewarepassivevoice!
Focusheavilyon
image
and
character
.
Bewarelazysentencesinfact,bewareadequatesentences.Theoverachieving
sentences,whichaccomplishtwoorthreethingsatonce,arewherethemoneysat.If
yoursentenceis
only
describingastandardsituation,oddsaregooditsnotworking
hardenough.
Weighthecostsandbenefitsofeachwordingdecisionyoumake.Sometimesyoull
needtopickbetweengivingmoredetailabouttheworldandgivingmoredetailabouta
charactershistoryoremotion.Considerwhatyougainandwhatyoulose.
Becarefultoletyourreaderfollowthecharacterslineofreasoningdontletthe
characterjumpthroughconclusionsallontheirown.
Itsoftenhelpfultogiveamagicsystemsensorycomponents.Ifyouweretodescribea
carpentercarvingwood,youcouldgointogreatdetailabouthowhegripstheknife,how
thewoodsmells,howhisfingersmoveoverthegrain.Anykindofartinourworldhas
that.Often,though,fantasywriterswilljustgivetheirmagicakeywordandnothingelse.
Magicsystemsaremoreinterestingwhentheyhavesensorycomponents.(Consider
Avatar:TheLastAirbender:
themagicsystemishighlyvisual,aswellasbeingvery,very
active.)
Becarefulaboutviewpointerrors,likementioningthatyourviewpointcharacterdidnt
noticesomething.Ifyourviewpointcharacterdidntnotice,youcannotbringitupwithout
breakingviewpoint.
StrivetomovedetailsdownthePyramidofAbstraction.Insteadofageneralairof
bemusement,describeslightlysquintedeyes,amouththathasopenedwithoutits
ownerrealizingit,orsomethingsimilar.Thatbeingsaid,sometimesyoucangetaway
withageneralairofbemusement.
Thoseofyouwhoselfidentifyaseditors:becautiousaboutapplyinghardandfastrules
tootherswriting.Behardonyourownwriting,butgentleonthatofothers.Forinstance,
ifyourereadingasubmissionfromyourwritinggroup,donotpresumetochange
hollered,lobbed,rebutted,repliedorclaimedwithsaid.Bejudiciousabout
interferingwithsomeoneelsesdiction.
Beextracarefulaboutmetaphorsandeuphemismsinyourphrasing,particularlywhen
writingSFF.Forinstance,Heflewacrosstheroomisapermissible(ifsomewhatlazy)

sentenceinacontemporarynovel,butinafantasynovelitcouldmeantwo
very
different
things.